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Discussing Netflix's 'The Social Dilemma' With Your Teens

10/07/2020

Like many, I recently watched 'The Social Dilemma' on Netflix, which has become a major talking point. As someone who spends a lot of time talking to teachers, parents and students about looking after our mental health, the role of social media in young people's lives is undoubtedly an issue. Many adults are concerned not only with the amount of time young people spend online and the content they are accessing, but the emotional implications on a teenager's sense of self worth.

'The Social Dilemma' is a powerful documentary-drama that paints a bleak picture of how social media has evolved. Describing smartphones as 'digital pacifiers' for uncomfortable feelings, the technologists and researchers explain how such tech has changed from being a useful tool to something manipulative and addictive. They define three dilemmas:

  • The mental health dilemma - the correlation between the use of social media and rising cases of depression, anxiety and suicidal/self harming behaviour amongst young people.
  • The democracy dilemma - the rise in political disinformation to fuel campaigns and unrest.
  • The discrimination dilemma - the use of algorithms to steer people towards extremist content and exploit confirmation bias.

These problems are undeniable and extremely problematic. But for the sake of drama, the documentary focuses primarily on the negative consequences of social media and frustratingly, the technologists' tips on managing your own usage come during the final credits. Some of them suggest keeping our children away from screens for as long as possible, though this seems unrealistic.

I would encourage parents and educators to watch 'The Social Dilemma' with their young people (aged 12 and above), as they are the generation who can create real change over how we choose to use social media in the future. It is important that they understand the risks involved and how to challenge algorithms and disinformation.

But a balanced conversation should follow, with consideration of the benefits of social media. At a time of restricted contact and travel, social media has enabled us to stay connected with friends and loved ones; it offers support for those who are lonely and isolated and it helps to globally promote positive campaigns, as recently seen with Black Lives Matter.

Here are some possible suggestions for a healthy, balanced approach to social media:

  • Turn off all notifications on your phone.
  • Delete any apps you don't use.
  • Don't accept any recommendations or adverts.
  • Follow those you don't agree with, to create a more balanced feed.
  • Fact check your information.
  • Stop following people or hashtags that affect your mood.
  • Set time limits for your daily use (IOS 12 now has time restrictions for apps).
  • Don't use social media 1 hour before bedtime.
  • Create family rules for tech in the home, such as no devices upstairs.
  • Block and report to the platform if you see anything that is abusive, offensive or threatening.
  • Regularly tighten your privacy settings.

It's worth checking out the documentary's dedicated webpage, with suggestions for rebooting your use of tech and taking further action - https://www.thesocialdilemma.com/

Social media is a tool like any other medium. We now have an opportunity to educate our young people how to use it effectively .

Advice for parents/carers can be found at -

https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/safeguarding-child-protection/social-media-and-online-safety

Further support for young people can be found at - https://www.ditchthelabel.org/

https://www.themix.org.uk/

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